February , 2018
Review by Richard Patz Shroom
The Roxy Performance Box Set
There is a lot to digest here, and one’s approach to this set should be to first keep it separate and distinct from any previous versions. It would be easy to want to compare, but I believe this “final word” collection needs to stand alone and represent Frank Zappa’s Roxy 1973 performances. My approach to listening to it from start to finish and letting it be totally absorbed before I made any judgments was the best way to go and I was certainly rewarded for my efforts. Rather than attempt detailed track by track or show by show analysis, let me just explain how this all impacted me, beginning first with the package itself.
This comes in a standard cardboard box (of the square variety), and features a slightly reflective type of printing which looks very nice I must say. Inside are the discs housed in their own individual printed sleeves designed to mimic the reel to reel tape boxes each show was contained in originally. The discs themselves are silkscreened as reel to reel tapes. There is a hefty booklet inside that details the contents of the box set, along with observations of some of those who were in attendance. A handful of photos are included to accent the somewhat standard approach which I found to be more to my liking than anything outlandish and unnecessary.
The music. Well, what can I say that will adequately describe what was a profound, delightful, mesmerizing, and even melancholy emotional experience? To begin with, you will notice right away that the producers opted for a very democratic mix, and I don’t think there could have been any other possible way to accurately translate what happened on stage during these concerts. For instance, when Frank solos, he is not brought way up front in the mix at the expense of the other instruments, and the clarity and separation of instruments therefore remains constant giving you a better idea of what the actual live event would have sounded like. There is not a reliance on gimmicky ‘verb to liven it up either, I mean, there may be a touch but everything that was done with this sound was done with a very light and respectful touch. There’s no attempt here to revise history, so what you experience audio-wise is of the time capsule variety which is infinitely better than attempting to bring this experience into the 21st century. High marks to the engineer!
These are performances that should be used to teach students what it means to play in an ensemble and how to be aware of the other musicians, how to listen for cues and to respond. I mean, this band here is the epitome of what can be achieved when everyone is on the same page and not only performs expertly but also COMMUNICATES with each other almost, seemingly, telepathically. There are moments where, as was normal during any typical Zappa concert, the band engages in short interludes between songs, or “preambles” where they might do something jazzy or “ethnic” to set up the next tune. You would be forgiven if you drifted a little with the attention span thinking these little segments are routine or not important to the overall context of the concert – but what is actually happening, and the fact that the recording is so pristine and the mix so elegant, is that these sections are where a lot of the action is really happening. I mean, let’s be honest for a second, the songs have all been performed probably hundreds of times already (with the possible exception of the brand new material but even then they have been rehearsed intensely) so you could say in theory there could be a measure of staleness (there isn’t, but you could assume there would be with any other band I guess), the point being that when these moments happen, you get inside the minds of the musicians a little bit.
I caught a little playfulness between Frank and Ruth during one such moment that the best way to really describe it would be to call it musical flirtation. It’s like all this stuff is happening and then Frank throws out a little playful lick, a short phrase that he knows only Ruth would recognize perhaps from something they played around with at a rehearsal or something, and instantly Ruth responds back with her own version of that same lick. She caught Frank’s wink, and replied. It was pure gold! After that, of course now my ears are seeking other intuitive little moments and there are literally dozens of them that happen, between all of them, during the course of each evening. That rare ability to make it seem like your improvisation is rehearsed, that when you are just making it up on the spot, your compadres are so dialed in, so proficient, so confident, that whatever you play it just gets instantly recognized and instantly complemented. That must have been a joy for Frank. I can see how having that kind of freedom at the right place, the right time, the right band, it made sense to him to want to capture it all for posterity. I for one thank him profusely! This Roxy “final word” box is worth every penny and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to hear what it sounds like when the highest caliber musicians perform the most complex, entertaining, funny, and most importantly, ORIGINAL music in an intimate setting captured expertly and presented “as it happened” start to finish.
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